Les Miserables

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When the beating of your heart
Echoes the beating of the drums
There is a life about to start
When tomorrow comes!
(lyrics to “Do You Hear the People Sing”)

It was over ten years ago that I was first introduced to Les Miserables. I knew it was a classic book, of course, but that was all I knew—until the boy I  loved started raving about the story and made me watch the 10th Anniversary Dreamcast version of the Broadway musical. He tried to explain the storyline to me as it went, but it would take a few viewings before I could follow along (especially since he fast forwarded through a song or two). Meanwhile, the stirring songs gripped my heart (but then, I’ve always been a sucker for songs from musicals!).

Phantom faces at the window.
Phantom shadows on the floor.
Empty chairs at empty tables
Where my friends will meet no more.
(lyrics to “Empty Chairs at Empty Tables”)

Then the Focus on the Family Radio Theatre presentation of Les Miserables came out. I could finally follow the story from start to finish, and such a tale of forgiveness and redemption it was.

I made one attempt to read the book sometime in my late teens. But even the paperback version was inches thick and had too much French for me to be able to get through the first chapter.

When we heard there was a new movie version of Les Miserables coming out—well, my husband was excited!  We frequently listen to the CD from the Broadway musical, and we’re always telling someone about the story. But we missed out on seeing the new movie in the theater due to travel and sickness, so I was thrilled to be able to tell my husband that I got a copy for review (and one to give away to one of you!).

Les Miserables

The Movie

Though I’ve never seen a non-musical version of Les Miserables, I was still surprised to find out that this newest movie is a musical. It presents a very unique experience for the modern day viewer. While being a musical makes the movie a bit harder to follow for those who are not familiar with the storyline, it enables you to connect with the story on a deeper level. It was simply beautiful when the voices blended into a trio and even a quartet or two. My husband recognized the priest’s talented voice immediately: Colm Wilkinson played Valjean for years in the Broadway musical. But this was not your usual Hollywood film with lip-syncing to a studio recorded song: the lyrics were sung on set, as the film was being shot, providing a Broadway-like experience (though with much more lavish sets!)

cosetteLes Miserables is not a family film. I will not be showing the movie to my children until they are much older, but I will be telling them the story as they grow old enough to understand it. Because the story of Les Miserables is about so much more than an orphan, a convict, and a prostitute. It is about redemption and forgiveness, mercy and grace. It is very raw and very real; but the very rawness of Les Miserables is a reality we need to be confronted with. Otherwise we run the risk of turning a blind eye to suffering, just like Valjean first did to that of Fantine. As one blogger put it, “Misérable means miserable… But only les misérables find mercy.”

But what struck me most throughout the movie was Eponine. Somehow, in focusing so much on Cosette and Marius’ love story, I’d always missed Eponine. And what a story of sacrificial love hers is!

I love him,
But every day I’m learning,
All my life,
I’ve only been pretending!
Without me,
His world will go on turning…
(lyrics from “On My Own”)

Whether or not you choose to watch the latest musical adaptation of Les Miserables, please familiarize yourself with the story. Because you can’t experience Les Miserables without coming face to face with the paradox of grace.

Giveaway

Allied Faith and Family has put together a brief, 8-page film companion guide with discussion questions that is free for anyone to download (and is available in print upon request). It highlights the principle characters and the biblical parallels.

And, Allied has also provided a giveaway copy of Les Miserables for one of you! (My friend Kristen is also giving away a copy of “Les Miserables” on DVD over at her blog Five in Tow, so head over there for another chance to win!)

a Rafflecopter giveaway

 

“a story filled with the gritty filth of sin and the pure glory of grace.”
Natasha Metzler in a review of Les Miserables Radio Theatre

“This powerful story of grace and mercy, redemption and forgiveness completely levels me, and speaks deeply to the tender places of my own fragile heart.”
Kris Camealy in a review of Les Miserables Radio Theatre

“The story powerfully represents the struggles of each individual soul. The struggle of choosing between right and wrong when the path is unclear. Between conscience and duty when the two seemingly contradict each other.”
-my sister Jessica Elisabeth in a book review of Les Miserables

(Disclosure: I received a free review copy of the movie from Allied Faith and Family in exchange for this review.)

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49 Comments

  1. I have loved this story for as long as I have known it. After seeing a couple older [non musical] movie versions, listening to Focus on the Family鈥檚 audio drama, and the musical soundtrack [over and over]; I finally read the unabridged version of this epic tale. *whew*

    I haven鈥檛 seen the new movie musical, so I鈥檇 love to, of course!

  2. This adaption was so powerful! Besides the adult-themed parts that went a little far, in my opinion, it was simply epic. I never thought I would so appreciate a musical to that extent.

  3. I was crazy about Les Miserables before Les Mis was cool 馃檪 Mom has always loved it, and we have listened to the Focus on the Family radio version too. I started listening to the unabridged translation by Isabel Hapgood on Librivox.org last year and I’m almost through it. Such an absolutely amazing story and raw look at humanity. The musical is rich, and the book even more so.

    I would love to see the DVD someday. Winning it would be great! Mom would be happy too 馃檪

    1. Oops. Missed that I was supposed to say who my favorite character is….

      Just one? Well, the Bishop is pretty amazing. In the book, you learn his life story before he meets Val Jean. He was an amazing man. The gravedigger is a funny old man that you get to know more in the book too.

      Perhaps, though, I would have to choose Javert. Simply because Ben Crawford from my home church played him on Broadway!

  4. I have the Les Miserables book and keep starting it, but haven’t made it all the way through yet. It’s on my list! 馃檪

  5. I’m not familiar with Les Miserables but would love to watch the movie (with 3 little one’s I don’t have time to read the book)! My favorite story of redemption is the one that we are celebrating this season…our Lord’s sacrifice for the redemption of each one of us!

  6. I love the story of Les Miserables! I think my favorite character is the guy (priest?) who instead of turning him in and being angry offered him grace and a fresh start. Helps me remember to view others through the eyes of God, not my own.

  7. I am not terribly familiar with the story, although I saw a movie of it years go. I am wanting to read to book and see the new musical…. I was too pregnant to watch it in theatres! I’d have to say though that my favorite story of redemption is people…… we are all so amazingly redeemed. You know?

  8. If one has never read, listened to, or watched Les Mis茅rables, which would you recommend that person start with first – the new Les Mis茅rables movie or the Focus on the Family Radio Theatre presentation of Les Miserables, or something else?

    I’d love to hear your thoughts! Thanks!

    1. Oh, that’s a great question, Ashley! I think you would get more out of the movie if you listened to the radio theater or read an abridged version of the book first. It was hard for me to catch the depth of the story when I saw the musical without knowing the background and all the ins and outs of the story.

      1. Thanks, Gretchen! I think I’ll check out the radio theater drama before I watch the movie. Looking forward to listening to it! I appreciate you sharing your thoughts and for introducing Les Mis茅rables to me!

  9. I’ve never seen the play nor the movie and have yet to read the book. Your review has just changed my mind; I’ll retrieve the book from the library for the rest of these cold winter nights. A story of grace will warm my frosty heart.

  10. Haven’t read the book but I’ve heard the Focus on the Family radio drama of Les Mis and my favorite characters would have to be Jean Valjean and Fantine. Haven’t seen the movie yet but I’ve heard great things about it!

  11. I LOVE the Les Miserables story! I actually read most of it as young teenager but got bogged down in the chapters about the Battle of Waterloo (I hear most do!) and didn’t quite get to finish the end, but I’ve seen at least 2, maybe 3 versions of the story! Definitely a favorite of my husband and I’s… and I’m really looking forward to seeing this new one!
    I think my favorite character has to be Jean Valjean …. the transformation in him is soooo amazing, so complete, so God!

  12. Eponine and Gavroche are my favorite characters. Gavroche is so cute! And man, would i like a voice like eponine!
    You should read the book or at least the wikipedia page. Did you know the relation between the two? Not that important but interresting nonetheless:-)

  13. Thanks for the chance at a fun giveaway! I’m here from Kristen’s blog, too. 馃檪

    1. Oh – and my favorite story of redemption – the one God has been writing for thousands of years … that He planned so long ago to send Jesus – for us!

  14. Sorry, I forgot I was to mention my favorite story of redemption. I am always inspired by reading the Psalms and realizing how God redeemed David. And I love hearing true-life testimonies of how God has changed people, one that comes to mind at the moment is Paul Washer, how God turned him from a rebel to a follower of Christ. Redemption is a beautiful thing!

  15. I’ve never read the book, Les Mis茅rables, or have seen the movie, but I have been hearing so much about it that I am now intrigued. I have to check it out. Thanks for your review and the opportunity to win a copy! =)

  16. Thank you so much for this giveaway–I’ve been wanting to see this!!

    I read the book many years ago, and I’ve been a huge fan of the Radio Theatre version you mentioned-so good. I don’t know that I have a favorite character…maybe Valjean, though. Such an incredible story.

  17. Eponine is my favorite character…as a teen I could just identify with her so well.

    I first heard of Les Mis when I was 8 or 9 years old, when my parents saw Les Mis on Broadway…I have been in love with it ever since. I’ve seen the musical live 3 or 4 times.

  18. Thank you for this review, Gretchen.

    Les Mis makes me cry every time. Even the concert versions. When the new movie first came out there were many negative reviews from Christians. But, I see it differently. In Les Mis I see the utter helplessness of Fantine鈥檚 circumstance in myself and others who often find themselves in situations they never dreamed life would be like. I see every girl who comes to the crisis pregnancy center where I volunteer. I am convicted to simply extend a kind, helpful hand to those I might otherwise wish to look down upon. I see myself in Valjean, in the shackles of sin, set free from the bondage of sin and death. I see myself in Javert sticking to the letter of the law and wanting justice so badly that it rocks my paradigm to see mercy instead. I see myself in Eponine, Marius, and Cossette. What do we miss when we refuse to see?

  19. I am not familiar with the Les Mis story, but my favorite redemption story of all time is Jesus Christ and the sacrifice he paid for me sin! 馃檪

  20. I’ve loved the music for years. And I think my favorite character is Eponine. I just love her devotion to Marcus even though she knew his heart was elsewhere. And “On My Own” is an incredible song. Thanks for the super giveaway!

  21. Les Miserables was so stirringly portrayed in the movie theater! While I had not had great exposure to this story until last summer, it was a treat to see the redemption and mercy portrayed so vividly on the screen. Valjean is most likely my favorite of characters, simply because of his integrity and growth over the course of the movie. What beauty!

  22. I cam over from Five in Tow, where she blogged about your giveaway. Honestly, my first thought was Paul. Although he was always a follower of God, he was an enemy of Christ, and God redeemed him. I’ve not seen or read Les Miserables, so it would be fun to win!

  23. My favorite part is in the beginning when Valjean goes to the bishop and steals his silverware. The police catch him, but the bishop, instead of being angry, tells him that he forgot the candle sticks. How often have I taken advantage of the grace of God, only to be loved and given more!